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Old 09-26-2009, 08:40 PM   #1
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Trip Report! Alaska -- Taming the Last Frontier Part 1 - IMAGE INTENSIVE!

Hey, everybody! Sorry it took me so long to get this posted! Between my little mishap (more on that later on) and starting in a new department at work right after my vacation, things have been a little crazy, and I'm a bit behind schedule. But I am now in posting mode! So here it comes, hopefully there won't be a lot of time between entries. But there may be a lot of them! I've got it down to about 200 pictures... we'll see how many I can shove in each post!

So, finally! Here's my Trip Report for my Alaska - Taming the Last Frontier ABD. This was an Adults Only departure, Sep 2-9, 2009.

I added a pre-day on to the start of the trip, staying at the Sophie Station hotel in Fairbanks. It was a bit pricey, but the airfare I ended up getting got me into Fairbanks at midnight, and I really didn't want to have to deal with getting myself to a hotel at that hour. And Sophie Station (the hotel for the first night of the ABD) was sold out for that night. I liked the idea of arriving, moving into my room (the same room I'd have for the ABD) and just not having to worry about it. I was also told it included breakfast (which, apparently, it didn't. I still need to talk to ABD about that.)

Anyway, there weren't a lot of choices getting to Fairbanks from Ohio. It was either leave at 8am (which meant leaving home by 6am latest) or leaving at 3pm (leaving home at 1) and arriving at midnight (Alaska time! 4am for me!) But when it comes to leaving exhausted or arriving exhausted, I'll always opt for the latter. I don't do well when rushed and/or sleep deprived! So, 1pm, off to the airport! Flew to Chicago, no issues. However, when arriving at the gate for our 6pm departure out of Chicago to Anchorage, we're informed there's a mechanical issue with the plane, and they'll let us know what's going on. 6pm becomes 7pm, then 8pm. Then they start saying things like "Well, if worst comes to worst, we have a plane coming in at 11pm you can have." Looks like I'm spending the night in Anchorage, flying to Fairbanks in the morning (but Alaska airlines *has* said they will provide the hotel room in Anchorage.) It's not the worst situation; I'm coming in a day early, no set plans for the first day, so as long as I get to Fairbanks some time the next morning, it's all good. I ended up having lovely conversations with a couple going on a Princess cruise, and then with another couple, Dave and Mim, who, it turns out, are on the ABD, also! They had planned on spending the night in Anchorage anyways, so they weren't too concerned.

Suddenly, just before 8pm, we're informed our plane is OK, we're boarding, and there's a chance we may make our connection in Anchorage! And we do! They've held the plane for us, and, wonders of wonders, our luggage even makes it with us!

I had been in contact with ABD during this delay, since they were supposed to pick me up in Fairbanks. One of the guides, Rae, and I play some cell phone tag for a while. She gives me the wrong cell phone #, but then leaves me a message while I'm on the plane, so I just call her back, leave her messages, etc. Upshot is, they've been watching the flights, and the other guide, Jesse, will be picking me up at the airport when I land at 2am. (6am!)

I land, and Jesse is there to meet me. Friendly, sweet guy. We collect my (YAY!) luggage, and head to Sophie Station. I head to my room, my luggage shows up, I unpack what I need to get some sleep, take a few pictures, and go to bed.

Sophie Station, while not fancy, is a very nice hotel. The staff are super-nice, and VERY helpful. The rooms are spacious and clean, and very comfortable.

Day 1 - Alyeska Welcome! (travel and/or on your own)

I slept in pretty late (like 10 or so), showered, and went downstairs for breakfast. I could have SWORN I was told the pre-day included breakfast, but the staff were confused about that. They gave it to me anyways. The breakfast was very yummy. I don't do a lot of meal pictures, but this breakfast was just so *pretty*, I had to.

I then went to the front desk to get tons of suggestions as to what I could do with my day in Fairbanks (I had a few ideas of things I wanted to do) and they explained how the shuttle they had worked, going around town. There are several properties in Fairbanks that belong to the same company as Sophie Station, and they operate this shuttle that circles around the properties & various attractions in town all day long. They also mentioned that a kid on my tour must be having a birthday, as they had a couple of baskets with bears in them for the tour. I explained the tour was Adults Only, so that couldn't be it. Oh, well. Who knows?

I headed back to my room, and started to pass a woman carrying a large box of stuff. I did a double-take, and realized she had a name tag on - Rae! I stopped her, introduced myself, and we had a great discussion about my dietary issues (unfortunately, many, which Rae & Jesse worked with marvelously!) I mentioned the bear thing, and found out they'd sort of spoiled a surprise, which Rae did not elaborate on. Rae gave me more suggestions on what I could do that day, and then we went our own ways.

I found I'd filled my hair conditioner bottle with shampoo instead of hair conditioner, so I walked up the road to Fred Meyers' to get some. The weather was SPECTACULAR! Sunny, blue skies, 60's, just magnificent. When I got back to the Hotel, it turned out I had almost 40 minutes until the next shuttle. So I figured I'd walk towards the next pickup spot (Fred Meyers) rather than just hang at the hotel. I got there, and decided to just keep walking. A local jogger told me it was less than a mile to my first destination, Pioneer Park, so I decided to just hoof it there. Wonderful choice. The area I walked through was nothing special, but the weather was just so spectacular, I didn't care.

Pioneer Park is an historical village. Historical homes from around the area have been moved there, and restored. There are museums, shops, re-creations, restaurants, a restored train, etc. It was a lovely place to stroll. I bought a great wrap & chili for lunch, and just wandered. One shop had a really cool ivory polar bear on sale, but the price was about 3 times what I thought it would be. Comparison shopping later on showed the price was in line with other shops, but it was just more than I wanted to spend on a knick-knack, no matter how nice it was. You'd have been proud of me. I normally spend a fortune on knick-knacks, but I'm trying to cut back (same with T-Shirts...)

I took the train ride around the park, and then, afterwards, decided that if I hadn't missed the shuttle at the front of the park when I got there, I wouldn't buy the polar bear. If I'd missed the shuttle, I would buy it. Shuttle showed up like 2 minutes later; fate had decided. No polar bear.

One of the funny things about this shuttle: I kept seeing the same people on it all day! The couple from the airport in Chicago, who were taking the Princess cruise; Dave & Mim; this couple who were waiting for the shuttle that first time at Pioneer park, where the wife had gotten a GREAT deal on a jacket, since she'd forgotten hers, and another couple, Tony & Nancy, who, it turned out, were also on the ABD! It wasn't that big a shuttle; it only ran once an hour, so we all thought it funny we kept running into each other all day long, even though we weren't going to the same places at the same time. I think a few other people from the ABD might have been on the shuttle, also, but I don't remember at this point.

So after Pioneer Park, I went to see the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Lovely, LOVELY museum. Native artwork, archeological artifacts, various exhibits about the history of Alaska, etc. There was a movie about the Northern Lights. It was a bit dry, but I did learn a LOT about the Northern Lights that I didn't know.

There was just something about this painting, Rescue Dog, by an Alaskan artist, that just really appealed to me.

One of the things I was hoping for, was that Rae mentioned that Mt McKinley (Denali) was sometimes visible from the museum, which is up on a hilltop, and she thought it might be visible that day. It wasn't. The shuttle driver pointed out where it would be if it had been visible (on the far right in the picture below) but it was all clouds. He said it is RARELY visible (no surprise there). For those who don't know, seeing Denali puts you in something called the 30% Club. Of the people who go to see Denali, only 30% ever see it at all (the Mountain is so high, it generates its own weather, and is usually shrouded in clouds). 20% see it somewhat obscured, and only 10% see it completely clear. I was already in the 30% Club, since on my previous trip (Princess cruisetour in 2006) we saw the mountain heavily cloud-covered, and then in clear silouette at sunset. I *really* wanted to make it into that 10%. But not this day.

I bought a cute fleece hat that a local textile artist made, that showed the mountain range, including Denali, as seen from the Museum (picture above). It's a little tight, but it's artwork, too. I really like it!

After I finished at the Museum, I got on the Shuttle and headed to one of the other Hotel properties, the Wedgewood Resort, which was supposed to have a beautiful wildlife sanctuary that was frequented by tons of different birds. I was pretty hungry at this point (and a little chilled, as I hadn't brought a jacket with me, and the sun was going down). The couple who'd gotten the great deal on the jacket were on the shuttle, and invited me to join them for dinner at the Wedgewood. The wife mentioned they had a wonderful seafood chowder there, and that sounded like just what I wanted for dinner. Dinner was a lovely, fun affair. The couple were charming, and we had a nice time. By that time, it was starting to get twilighty. I took a very pretty walk through the woods, to the lake area of the sanctuary. It was gorgeous, but, by that hour, all the birds were gone. That was OK, I still loved the walk.

When I finished there, and headed back to catch the last shuttle, I noticed that another place on the grounds that I'd meant to visit, The Antique Auto Museum, was STILL OPEN! (It was like 9pm at this point). I walked in, and was blown away by the collection. I'd heard various stories about how the owner of the collection had died, and Jay Leno hadn't been able to buy the collection (it was supposed to be sold as one lot), etc. But the guy who worked there said that the man who owned the hotels owned the collection, and had been collecting them for years. It was his PERSONAL collection of dozens and dozens of cars. They were SPECTACULAR! I just have never seen such a collection of Vintage cars in one place. They were gorgeous. And most of them actually run!

They also had a couple of unrestored cars there, to contrast with the restored ones. I was amazed. It had never occurred to me just how MUCH they needed to restore on these cars. I guess I thought some old geezer kept them all in pristine condition in their garage or something.

I *loved* this very Alaskan car. This was apparently an option package.

They also had one car set up for old-time photos (no extra charge!) This museum was totally more than worth the $4 it cost me as a guest at one of their properties... I can HIGHLY recommend this place. I was the only person there so late at night, so I got a private tour.

Fortunately, I'd asked the shuttle driver what happened if I missed the last shuttle (which I obviously did) and he said to just ask the front desk at the Wedgewood; since the same people owned the Sophie Station, they'd get me back there. Which they gladly did.

When I got back to my room, I had a (sort of) surprise. There was a gift basket -- with a stuffed bear -- on my bed, along with a note from ABD, apologizing for having to re-schedule my tour (I was *supposed* to do Rocky Trails & Mountie Tales, but it was cancelled). Very nice, and I loved the bear. Saved me buying one souvenir, as I frequently will buy a stuffed animal as a souvenir. (The ribbon around his neck says "Alaska"!) It also had a coloring book, a small calendar, a small photo album, and a set of wooden salad tongs. And chocolate. Really yummy chocolate from Wildberry Products. Really a very nice touch.

There was also the ABD welcome gifts; a collapsible tote bag with a pen and a pair of small binoculars and a bottle of Purell.

The Purell was especially important, as we were warned that a LOT of the places we'd be going would be "dry houses" and would not have running water, and would therefore have "dry house" bathrooms. They made a big deal about it, but honestly, they were just porta-potties, and were for the most part nice porta-potties. It was not a huge deal for me, but according to Rae, some people on the tour had NEVER used a porta-potty before, so they felt they needed to warn folks. I guess forewarned is forearmed, but it wasn't a huge deal.

Continued in Part 2: Day 2 - McKinley's Shadow.

Last edited by sayhello; 09-27-2009 at 11:41 AM.
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